Review: Noteworthy

Noteworthy by Riley RedgateTitle: Noteworthy
Author: Riley Redgate
Genres: Romance
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: A cappella just got a makeover. Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I am the opposite of musical, but I loved reading this book, which truly is a love letter to a cappella. And, I liked the queer and Asian representation within the book. But just to be clear, this is not a book about a non-binary or trans character. The language of the original book blurb on the cover seems to hint at this, but it isn’t the case – something that the author addresses in this post.

I’ve grown up with a love-hate relationship with crossdressing manga series like Ouran High School Host Club and Hana Kimi. They were just so fun to read! But also pretty problematic, especially when it came to much older books. I was curious as to how Noteworthy would handle the subject. Gender and identity is discussed, and the heroine Jordan doesn’t shy away from grappling with the ethics behind what she does to keep her place in an all-male a cappella group. But again, if you’re looking for a non-binary or trans main character, this book is not it.

I just bet this book is amazing for people who have anything to do with a cappella. Despite being not at all musical, I was hooked by all of it, and immediately looked up youtube playlists to listen to afterwards. In Noteworthy, Jordan is plunged into an intense world of competitive a cappella and the social life that goes with it – all while, on the sidelines, her attention jumps to her parents on the West Coast struggling to get by.

While my ship didn’t sail in Noteworthy (cry), what I truly fell in love with was the group dynamics, the strong thread of friendship that runs through the book. I would happily read an entire book made up entirely of the Sharpshooters’ group chat. One driving force for Jordan is her need to belong, and that’s a powerful theme throughout the book. Consider my heartstrings tugged.

As with Seven Ways We Lie, I read Noteworthy in a few days and loved every moment of it. Days later, I feel like there’s still a lot about Noteworthy that I’d like to mull over. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the next book that Redgate writes! If you have any love at all for a cappella, definitely check this book out!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Interview: Aditi Khorana

The Library of Fates was released yesterday and sounds amazing. The author, Aditi Khorana, answered a few questions for us and I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of this lovely piece of lit soon.

Summary: A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on one another. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Your first published novel, Mirror in the Sky, was science fiction. Was there a big difference between writing that type of story and writing fantasy for The Library of Fates?

Yes and no! When I’m writing a book, I’m mostly focused on themes and characters and the transformation of a character. Mirror in the Sky is a book about belonging, finding one’s place in the world, what it means to be a part of a family or community, to be a citizen of the world, and also about how the choices we make, big and small, collectively have a huge impact on the people around us. With The Library of Fates, I wanted to explore the journey of a character who has always belonged, always been beloved by those around her, and what happens when she loses everything. Essentially, how does one start over when everything is lost? Beyond this, I was investigating this question of what are the things worth sacrificing for and where do we draw the line and refuse to give in? What does it mean to be a feminist? A good friend?

I did a lot more outlining for The Library of Fates, and in many ways, it’s much more intricate in terms of plot, but the fundamental process was similar.

Amrita is facing the unknown. What does she draw on to forge ahead in spite of having no idea of what she will come up against?

The Unknown is basically navigating your own psyche, your worst demons, your greatest fears. And Amrita is a character who has essentially no life skills and is forced to navigate a world she has always been sheltered from. It’s a terrifying idea. But the unknown – as scary as it is – doesn’t exist to cruelly taunt and terrify us. It forces us to shut out all the voices that come from outside of ourselves that are urging us to find safety or comply or compromise ourselves or our vision. The unknown exists to help us find out who we truly are and what we’re truly capable of. It gives us a breadcrumb trail of clues that we can follow, and that trail comes from within ourselves. To trust the unknown inevitably means to trust yourself and I wanted to show a character who does this, despite all her fears, her loneliness and her doubts.

Your TedTalk, “Harnessing the Power of the Unknown” seems to be related to The Library of Fates in a few ways. Can you explain the relationship?

I think being a writer or working in any sort of creative profession, you’re facing the unknown every day. You are creating something out of nothing. And that’s exactly what Amrita is doing once her life is turned upside down. But I think this is what real life is about. Those kernels of inspiration, insight, the exploration of your true self, facing your greatest demons: that’s what the unknown forces us to do and hold and contend with, and try as they might, nobody escapes this.

What do you enjoy about being a writer? What is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

Without sounding too pretentious, I love thinking about ideas. I like being my own boss, and devoting my mental energies to what I want to think about rather than what someone else wants me to think about. I love exploring new themes, and I feel like I learn so much with each book that I write. It’s the closest thing I have to some sort of devotional practice. I work through everything with the simple act of writing. It’s made me a more empathetic, creative and disciplined person.

The most difficult part is probably the long arc of publishing. It’s often a year between the time that you finish a manuscript and it’s out in the world, sometimes longer.

What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

My favorite book of all time is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

What’s up next for you as a writer?

I’m working on experimental feminist fiction for smart women and teens. It’s contemporary, it’s dark and it challenges the conventions of the novel as well as the conventions that women are often forced to abide by. It’s really fun to write.

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Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S. K. Ali
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

Review: There is so much I can say about Saints and Misfits that I almost don’t know where to begin. I guess at the beginning, which is when we meet the monster in Janna’s life. The moment we met the monster was so unexpected and a hit to the gut. I don’t think I can recall any books where the author puts a traumatic event for the character in the second chapter, but I loved it because it made me realize that Saints and Misfits was a much deeper novel than I anticipated and that it was going to take me on one hell of a journey. The novel moves at a wonderful pace from there as Janna tries to make sense of what happened, while dealing with a member of her community that everyone loves and respects, but Janna is traumatized by. At the same time, she is trying to figure out her feelings towards Jeremy, who actually might like her back. This internal conflict is at the heart of the novel and felt real. Janna is surrounded by family and friends, but holds these two secrets (well one friend knows about Jeremy), thinking she can handle them both, when in reality she can’t, because Jeremy and the monster are friends. Janna often goes from having the good butterflies in her stomach when seeing Jeremy to becoming nauseous when seeing the monster a minute later, but is unable to speak on her feelings to friends and family. Janna is surrounded by love, but at the same time, feels like she cannot express her true self, her true feelings, and feels trapped like so many young women do. I truly felt for her in those moments.

I’ve mentioned that Janna is surrounded by numerous people who love her and that is also an element I loved in the book. I often find in many YA novels that the protagonist is somewhat excluded from their community and/or doesn’t have a good support network. This was not the case in Saints & Misfits. While Janna’s parents are divorced, it’s clear her parents love her in their own way, her brother is working hard to reconnect with her after being away at school, she has a beautiful relationship with her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram, her uncle who is the imam of her mosque, and her two best friends Tats and Fizz. She eventually develops friendships with two female characters, Sarah and Sausun, who are polar opposites, but combined provide Janna the support she needs and ultimately help her find her voice. The fact that Janna is surrounded by such a loving community, while holding her secrets, creates a deeply moving conflict in the novel. It highlights how our community can be a source of strife for people, but at the same time be a place that helps us only if we let it – if we trust others and let them in. It is a beautiful lesson that Janna learns because she believes she is a misfit who doesn’t fit into her community, not realizing that her community does accept her for the way she is. This belief is a common one that many teens have has they search for their identity and Janna’s story is one that will connect with a lot of readers. It’s a beautifully written story that will make readers laugh, cry, and feel like they are part of Janna’s community. In fact, when the novel was over I wasn’t actually ready to leave Janna’s world. I wanted to see where Janna’s growth will take her.

Lastly, I gotta speak about all the kick-ass female characters in this novel. All of them represent the broad spectrum of beliefs/views that women have. They don’t all agree but are respective of each other to accept each other as who they are. With the exception of Janna and Fizz’s argument that ultimately seems to end their friendship, many of the important women in Janna’s life work to lift each other up. Tats is a true friend to Janna, and even though Janna is slow to warm up to Sarah and Sausun, she eventually comes to rely on the older girls for support and advice. Like many teenagers, Janna’s relationship with her mother is a bit strained, but again Janna comes to realize that a lot of her mother’s actions come from a place of love and she learns to be a full recipient of that love. All of these relationships are complex but very real and I loved reading a book that had so many wonderful female relationships.

Saints and Misfits is a wonderful debut novel by S.K. Ali and I can’t wait to read whatever she has coming next.

Recommendation: Buy it Now!

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Review: Summer of Sloane

Title: Summer of Sloane
Author: Erin L. Schneider
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 304
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Warm Hawaiian sun. Lazy beach days. Flirty texts with her boyfriend back in Seattle.

These are the things seventeen-year-old Sloane McIntyre pictured when she imagined the summer she’d be spending at her mom’s home in Hawaii with her twin brother, Penn. Instead, after learning an unthinkable secret about her boyfriend, Tyler, and best friend, Mick, all she has is a fractured hand and a completely shattered heart.

Once she arrives in Honolulu, though, Sloane hopes that Hawaii might just be the escape she needs. With beach bonfires, old friends, exotic food, and the wonders of a waterproof cast, there’s no reason Sloane shouldn’t enjoy her summer. And when she meets Finn McAllister, the handsome son of a hotel magnate who doesn’t always play by the rules, she knows he’s the perfect distraction from everything that’s so wrong back home.

But it turns out a measly ocean isn’t nearly enough to stop all the emails, texts, and voicemails from her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, desperate to explain away their betrayal. And as her casual connection with Finn grows deeper, Sloane’s carefree summer might not be as easy to find as she’d hoped. Weighing years of history with Mick and Tyler against their deception, and the delicate possibility of new love, Sloane must decide when to forgive, and when to live for herself.

Review: If you’re looking for a book to take with you on vacation this summer, look no further than Erin L. Schneider’s Summer of Sloane. It is an engaging contemporary romance that starts off with two bombshell scenes about Sloane’s best friend’s and boyfriend’s betrayals. As a reader, Sloane’s anger, confusion, and betrayed feelings were things I easily sympathized with. I’m glad Sloane had a network of family and friends to help support her while she struggled to figure out what to do with her fractured relationships, though I do wish we had seen more of Sloane’s relationship with her mother and with Mia.

Some of the best scenes in the novel are when Sloane ponders the things she’d lost and tries to figure out where she should go from there. Summer of Sloane is all about the messiness of life, establishing boundaries, and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the people we love deeply are just as deeply flawed. Schneider did a great job of describing the emotional rollercoaster Sloane was on throughout the book and exploring the many ways Sloane was and wasn’t handling everything that had been thrown her way.

The developing romance between Sloane and Finn was fun, and they had a pretty natural progression from acquaintances to friends to significant others. I liked their banter and the way they could get each other to open up with the things they were each struggling with. I was less enthused with Finn failing to give Sloane more space during their rockier moments (to the point where I half wished Sloane would handle him like she had Tyler just so Finn would back off), but I did like where the two of them ended up.

I do have a few nitpicks about the lead-in to the finale, but they’re all spoilery. Suffice it to say, I was bothered by what I viewed as the disparity between Mick’s and Tyler’s resolutions. That isn’t the way I had hoped things would go, and I feel as if Mick got the raw end of the storytelling. In spite of that, I appreciated the generally optimistic tone of the ending and felt that it did well by Sloane’s character.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re looking for a fun summer vacation read. Despite a few specific-to-me nitpicks, Summer of Sloane was a good contemporary romance about love, forgiveness, and growing up. It should definitely make its way into your TBR pile if it hasn’t already.

Extras

Goodreads giveaway (ends July 10)

Interview at Next Page Please

 

 

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Review: Solo

Title: Solo
Authors: Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
Publisher: Blink
Genre: Contemporary, Poetry
Availability: July 25, 2017
Review copy: ARC & digital audio sample via publisher

Summary: From award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess, comes Solo, a YA novel written in poetic verse. Solo tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true. With his signature intricacy, intimacy, and poetic style, Kwame Alexander explores what it means to finally come home.

Review: 
Our lips are in the process
of becoming

one
in her hammock,

like two blue jays nesting.
Feeding each other

kisses of wonder.
I’m sure, she answers.

Blade Morrison is completely captivated by his girlfriend Chapel. At the beginning, this book seems like a story of first love. There’s a lot more going on here though. I don’t want to spoil things, but know that this relationship will have a rocky road. Chapels parents aren’t excited about Blade and the Morrison family. Blade’s father has lived on the wild side too long for them to be comfortable with their daughter spending time around him. Blade himself is starting to lose interest in spending time with his family. His father has disappointed him too many times and the scars are mounting up rapidly. Aside from this, there is a family secret that blows Blade’s mind and lands him in Ghana. This is all a lot to deal with in one book, but Alexander and Hess manage it well.

The use of verse helps keep the text to the point. There aren’t tons of wasted words taking up space on the page. The poetry also allows for the rhapsodizing Blade does about his girl. The musical aspect is also a good fit for verse as lyrics are interspersed throughout the book. Music and poetry are a natural fit. There are music references scattered all through the book. I can imagine many readers will find themselves tracking down the songs online as they read to have a soundtrack to the story. I know I did. The publisher also provided a digital audio sample. The audio is likely to end up more popular than the text. Kwame Alexander is the narrator and Randy Preston plays the accompanying original music. The audio is a more complete experience and I am definitely looking forward to hearing it.

For readers who enjoyed Alexander’s The Crossover and Booked, this will be a good follow-up though it has a slightly different style. Once again, there are some weighty topics, but humor is present here and there – enough to take the edge off once in a while.

Recommendation: Get is soon especially if you enjoyed Alexander’s previous verse novels. Alexander and Hess along with Preston have created a solid book that deals with romantic love, love of self, and family love. Solo had me singing, laughing, crying, shaking my head and appreciating my own family.

Extras:

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Review: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.[Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I say this a lot, but that cover is incredible and adorable and just, ugh. I love it. The premise itself is a lot of fun too. Desi Lee is an over-achiever in every way but one – namely, romance. After encountering the hot and mysterious Luca Drakos, Desi formulates a plan to enter the dating game… by taking inspiration from a Korean drama.

Now, as anyone who has watched a kdrama knows, there’s plenty of beloved tropes and classic scenarios that make up a standard storyline. Inspired by her single father’s love for kdramas, Desi creates her own guide to true love and follows those steps to a T. Of course, chaos (and romance) ensues.

The book is adorable and hilarious to read. There’s no getting around that. Desi Lee is a wonderful character – successful and driven but totally incapable of flirting or getting the guy. I honestly cried reading the first chapter that establishes exactly how motivated and driven Desi is, along with her bond with her widower father. And while we’re at it – hands down, my favorite character was Desi’s father. He reminded me so much of my own mother and her notes to me that are a mix of Chinese and English. Desi’s friends are awesome as well.

The one thing that did trip me up a bit was just how closely Desi followed the kdrama steps – some of which were more morally murky than others. I’m still not sure what to make of the ending, to be honest.

All in all, this was a fun and refreshing read. Not to be cliche, but it’ll put a smile on your face. If you love kdramas, this is absolutely a must-read. (Loved the shoutout to such dramas as Oh My Ghostess!) Check it out when you get the chance!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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